Reflecting on these two pillars of the Church who though very different in backgrounds and personality were used to help initially spread the Gospel, it is interesting to see how God chooses is so different from how we were to choose.
Peter’s background and resume probably wouldn’t get him into any top 500 company, yet he was chosen by Christ as the first Pope and to guide the start of the church. He was impetuous and always misinterpreting Jesus’ words and when he tried to guess and to match the mercy of God in the way of forgiveness he fell way short. Guided by the Holy Spirit he would pronounce “You are the Christ the son of the living God” and a moment later have to be rebuked by Jesus “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” As a result of a vision he realized that Gentiles were part of God’s plan and then later had to be rebuked by St. Paul for not following through with his conduct. The selection of St. Peter is much like the case of Gideon being allowed to only have an army of three hundred to ensure that the resulting victory could not be assigned to Gideon or his men, but to God alone. A highly charismatic and intellectual first Pope could have been a problem with people assigning to him the glory instead of Jesus. Nobody would attribute the rise of the Church to St. Peter alone. This humble and simple man can still teach us “moderns” much in the way of obedience and understanding in relation to the Church. After Jesus taught the doctrine of the Eucharist in John Chapter 6 and many disciples left in disgust; when Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This is great advice to those who don’t understand Church teachings, for those scandalized by the situation, or by liturgical abuses. That the Church is true and understandable by reason and that in reality there is no alternative then Jesus who through his Church gives us the sacraments.
St. Paul is another of those choices that we wouldn’t have made. A man who followed every part of the law as practiced by the pharisees. A man who was actively persecuting Christians and would not stop at anything to see them gone. His conversion I consider one of the great miracles in the Bible. Finding out your wrong and learning the truth is not what you believed is always difficult to accept and unlearning what you believed is even harder.
The conversion of St. Paul is interesting I think in relation to modern thinking on the preeminence of conscience. The belief that if someone thinks they are doing right then that makes it right for that person. St. Paul previously certainly thought he was following God and worked ardently to do what he perceived God wanted. You would think by modern belief that this was what was in the Book of Acts.
“As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And I answered, `Whoever you are I am not persecuting anyone, I am following my conscience”, and he said to me “Oops, then I am sorry about knocking you off your horse”. I replied “That’s Okay, and can you do something about this sudden blindness.”, and he said to me “I will take care of that, sorry about this misunderstanding.”